Tag Archives: criticism

Column: No conspiracy, only resistance

Published on January 17, 2017.

From where I stand it is clear to me that there is no conspiracy to oust President Duterte; what there is is growing resistance to Dutertismo. Those are two entirely different things.

On previous occasions I have identified three troubling aspects of the Duterte presidency: the high number of killings in the war on drugs, the hasty pivot away from the United States and toward China, and the rehabilitation of the Marcoses. As best as I can tell, these are the sources of rising public discontent, and the proof is accumulating both in the surveys and in the streets. The same polls that show a general support for the war on drugs reveal an equally robust majority concerned about the killing of mere suspects; a majority also mistrusts both China and Russia, countries the President likes because they share his contempt for human rights. The corpses, mainly of poor Duterte voters, continue to pile up in the alleys, while anti-Marcos protesters have taken to the streets and will do so again.

But to appreciate that there is no conspiracy, all one needs to do is take a look at the disarray of Duterte critics, who cannot agree on messaging, plan a sustained program of political action, or even unite behind Vice President Leni Robredo. There ARE movements, or stirrings at least, but as far as I can tell they are issue-oriented: fighting the culture of death, including the proposed lowering of the age of criminal liability; determining the future of the Philippine-American military relationship, especially in discussions within the armed services; campaigning against the Marcoses’ return to power.

All these are legitimate political exercises; only those who equate criticism with ouster plans would see them as destabilizing. Continue reading


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Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

Kermode, the sense of an ending

A sample of the many sendoffs to the great literary critic Frank Kermode, whose books helped give shape to my reading:

The New York Times: “I wanted to write about Kermode because I admired him. In my years in academia, I had watched the study of literature go down any number of rabbit holes — chasing after theory and ideology and system. The very point of reading and talking about what we read seemed to have been lost in a kind of strangulating self-seriousness and alienation. That’s where Kermode came in.”

The Telegraph: “Kermode had initially been a scholar of the Renaissance, notably of Shakespeare, Spenser and Donne, but he came to the attention of fellow academics with Romantic Image (1957), a study of the use of imagery in poetry by romantic and modern writers.”

“He continued thereafter to combine Renaissance and modern studies, but in both his preoccupations remained broadly the same – the relationship between art and order, and that between writers and the changing world of which they had tried to form a coherent vision.” Continue reading

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Column: Worth a life

Published on August 24, 2010.

A change of pace, from the political: Frank Kermode, the finest literary critic of our time, passed away last week, at the age of 90. I discovered him—that is to say, for myself—in the 1980s, when I was haunting the airy rooms of the British Council when it was still based in a converted house in New Manila. Finding him was a fruit of that habit that a reader who has no means of income quickly learns to make his own: inhabiting the spaces between bookshelves for hours on end. It was, in other words, pure accident, the result of one book, one author’s name, leading to another.

At least that is how I remember it, of how I came to fall under his spell. It seems a long way from the common rooms of Cambridge or the Isle of Man to the tragicomic reality of Philippine politics and journalism, but I did learn at least two formative lessons from two decades of reading Kermode. (It should come as no surprise to his devoted readers that he wrote a charming piece on the very notion of “formation,” too.) Bear with me. Continue reading

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What the Dickens?

“To me it is a perversion of criticism to suggest that you can have the virtues of a writer without his vices, and the discovery of Dickens’s failures does not make his achievement less. I swallow Dickens whole and put up with the indigestion.” V. S. Pritchett, reviewing “Edwin Drood”

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